CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Board of Deputies of British Jews ask justice secretary to fire coroner Mary Hassell

David Gauke MP told that the Jewish community is "being failed by their coroner's service"

23 January, 2018 — By William McLennan

The justice secretary has been asked to sack Camden’s coroner over “unnecessary delays and distress” caused to grieving Jewish families.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews wrote to David Gauke MP today urging him to relieve senior coroner Mary Hassell of her duties, citing what they called her “obstructive policies and manner” that have delayed burials.

Muslim and Jewish families have repeatedly criticised Ms Hassell over what they perceive as a failure to accommodate their religious beliefs. Both faiths prohibit invasive post-mortem examinations and require swift burials after death.

The letter, written by Marie van der Zyl, the Board of Deputies vice president, said that a meeting on Friday with Ms Hassell, intended to “discuss the way forward”, had proved fruitless.

She wrote: “Ms Hassell’s insistence on what she terms a ‘cab rank’ rule on a strict first-come, first-served basis without any discretion, and unwillingness to provide a contact number for burial societies to use out-of-hours services, has created a situation were the Jewish community of Inner North London is being failed by their coroner’s service.

“With regret, we must inform you that we cannot see how the situation can be resolved while Ms Hassell is still in post. We therefore request that you relieve her of her duties.”

The coroner investigates deaths in Camden, Islington, Hackney and Tower Hamlets – collectively making up some of the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in the country.

The issue came to a head over Christmas when the closure of the court lead to further hold-
ups in releasing bodies to Jewish families.

Earlier this month, councillor Abdul Hai, a Labour cabinet member, said Ms Hassell should leave her post at St Pancras Coroner’s Court and move to an area that has “less faith sensitivities”.

St Pancras Coroner’s Court has previously said that Ms Hassell could not comment publicly as it would be “incompatible with her judicial role”.

A copy of a letter by Ms Hassell, obtained by the New Journal, states that she is “very familiar with the Jewish and Muslim religions’ teachings” and “always take these into account”.

She added: “There is a difference between being sensitive to faith wishes, and prioritising one person over another because of their religion.

“The coronial area of Inner North London contains the greatest concentration of Orthodox Jewish people in Europe, and the office of HM Coroner is here to serve that community, but not only that community.”

The MoJ has been contacted for comment.

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